|Posted: Fri Aug 03, 2012 10:27 pm Why Jesus was not the Jewish Messiah|
|This is a reedited version of one of my first posts on this forum, from five years ago. I think it bears repeating.
A word before I begin:
This post is NOT an attack on Christianity; nor is this post an invitation to debate. This post is intended to EXPLAIN something that very many non-Jews, including many Christians but also including many others, do not, apparently, understand.
Jews, as a rule, do not comment on the truth or falsehood of any other faith, and that includes the Christian faith; we have no right. We only claim to know how, in the words of our tradition, God chose to speak to US. If He chose to speak to another people in another manner, that is no business of ours, and we have no warrant to say that He did not. Only in the matter of literally worshiping idols as divine beings do we pronounce judgment, and that is rather rare in the modern world.
The battle has never been between Christians and Jews, anyway. We are on the same side. On the other side are today's idol-worshippers -- those who worship things; money, power, fame, gratification, status. May we both always remember that.
This post is also not addressed to atheists. I have spoken on the radically different theology (insofar as it exists) of the Jewish religion elsewhere, and many times noted the fact that very many Jews ARE atheists; but all of those issues, and the debates and discussions connected thereto, are not for this thread, and I will not be dealing with them here.
This post is on the rather more limited topic of why the Jews did not, and do not, accept Jesus as our Messiah.
That some few have, and do, does not matter. Peace to them, but there are reasons why very few Jews who are familiar with and committed to their faith and tradition ever have, or ever will, believe in Jesus. This post is an effort to explain some of the most important of those reasons. If you do not agree with them, that is your right, but these matters are not, for Jews, open to debate or argument.
To begin, then:
Jesus, to put it plainly, simply did not perform the very specific actions that the Messiah was expected to do. There can be no "wiggle room" here; the tradition has been constant for, quite literally, thousands of years, and it has not changed.
The issue was never that there were certain "prophecies" that the Messiah had to "fulfill," as many seem to think; most of the “prophecies” which it is claimed that Jesus fulfilled were never considered “prophecies” by Jews in the first place (the very term has a different meaning in the Jewish religion, which is only occasionally related to “foretelling the future”). The Messiah was never to be identified by “prophecy”; he was to be identified by the PERFORMANCE of certain concrete, real-world actions. To do them was to be the Messiah, and the meaning of the word "Messiah" was "the man who does these things."
Jesus did not do them. He was not the Messiah. There is no "therefore," because the phrases are synonymous.
Jesus fulfilled one and only one attribute of the Messiah; he was of the tribe of Judah. Much is made of this in two of the Gospels, Matthew and Luke, with elaborate genealogies given for Mary, and, oddly, for Joseph.
Other than that, St. Paul and the Gospels to the contrary, Jesus did nothing expected of the Messiah. Three such expectations will suffice for our purposes: (1) The Messiah was to be a military and/or a political leader, an actual, rightful King who would restore the line of David to the throne of Israel and reign in Jerusalem as the actual, literal earthly monarch of the Jewish nation. (2) He would restore the political independence of the land of Israel and free it from foreign rule. (3) Most importantly, he would institute a reign of perfect peace, justice, liberty and piety that would shortly extend over all the earth -- in THIS world and THIS life; not in a symbolic or “spiritual” way, but in literal, present human history. This last is, as I say, the most important task of all; the Messiah would institute the Messianic Age. He was named for it, and it was named for him. The two would come together, or not at all. They were, and remain, one.
It seems rather clear that none of these occurred, and most glaringly the last, which was and has always been the most important sign and task of the Messiah. The short answer, for many Jews, to the question "Why don't you believe in Jesus?" is "Oy! Look around!" The Messiah has not come.
Another issue is that Jesus claimed (or it was claimed for him) that he had power and authority that no Jew could or would claim for any man, and power and authority far beyond any that were ever attributed to the coming Messiah. These claims were and are alien to Judaism, and in fact often blasphemous from a Jewish point of view. It was even claimed that Jesus was God incarnate, that a human being was, in fact and truth, God Almighty Himself.
It would be hard to think of an idea more repugnant to Jews, then or now. The oldest and most fundamental and nonnegotiable tenet of Judaism is that God is One, which means a good deal more than "one God." Among other things, it means that God is unique and indivisible, and shares His Essence and Being with no one and nothing. He is Alone. He is One.
It would be easier for Jews to begin chowing down on ham-and-Swiss sandwiches on Yom Kippur than to accept the claim that a man could be, in any sense, God. The Messiah was never conceived to be anything other than an ordinary mortal man; anointed by God, to be sure, but no more a God himself than King David was. There is no hint of such a thing in any Jewish tradition; it is about as likely as the High Priest carving a stone idol and placing it in the Holy of Holies. It was, and remains, quite literally unthinkable. (The one -- count ‘em, ONE -- verse from Scripture that is commonly given as proof that this notion DID have a part in Jewish tradition is, without apology, a gross misreading and mistranslation of the passage in question; and it is also unique. The idea that such a radical departure from the ancient tenets of the Jewish religion would not be known and even heavily emphasized throughout Jewish teachings over the centuries is more than a little ludicrous.)
Second, Jesus was said to be the literal son of God. This was way beyond bizarre. The idea that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of Moses and Sinai, could or would come down to earth and father a human child is as foreign to Judaism as temple prostitution. That is a Greek idea, not a Jewish one -- consider Zeus and Hercules -- and it may be no coincidence that Paul was speaking to Greeks, not Jews, when he formulated it. There has never been anything within a light-year of that idea anywhere in all the enormous tradition and long history of the Jewish people. It is, again, unthinkable:
Third, Jesus claimed the power and authority to forgive sins.
Now this is more difficult, because this is not widely known: Jews do not believe that God Himself has that power. God can forgive sins against Himself--ritual offenses, broken vows, and so on--but no more; a sin against another human must be forgiven by that person, or not at all. (This is why there can be no forgiveness for murder. The only one with the power to forgive is dead. This is also why the Jews of today cannot "forgive" the Holocaust. You must ask the six million for that forgiveness; we have no right to give it.)
By claiming this power, Jesus was not claiming to be coequal with God, but in fact greater than God. No wonder some tore their robes when they heard him speak.
And again, as if all this were not enough -- it was claimed that Jesus took on a role that had never been contemplated by any Jew from Abraham onward, a role that was not necessary and was, again, alien to the whole of Jewish teachings and traditions from the beginning to the present day -- the role of “Savior.” it is claimed that Jesus was the sacrifice that saves all men from their sins, and that this salvation is accessed by believing in it.
This seems simple; but for Jews, there are no less than six separate problems here.
First, the idea that people need to be saved from their sins in the first place. Jews have never believed in "Original Sin," nor that all people are born sinful. We believe that everyone has an impulse to do good, and an impulse to do evil, and that these remain with us all our lives; our job is to follow the first and resist (or redirect) the second to the best of our ability.
Second, St. Paul to the contrary, Jews have never taught, nor do we believe, that we are obligated to fulfill "the whole of the Law" or face eternal damnation. We believe that, since God made us, He knows our imperfection and our weakness, and does not demand that we be perfect and without fault or flaw. That would be the act of an unjust God, and we do not believe that God is unjust.
Third, Jews do not believe that any human can bear the sins of another. That principle is underlined in the Torah over and over again. Each man bears his own sins, and that cannot be changed. Sins are forgiven through prayer, repentance, and “deeds of lovingkindness.” No blood is necessary.
Fourth, we do not believe that a "sacrifice" is necessary to obtain forgiveness for sins, whether animal or human (and the idea of a human sacrifice is so far from any Jewish belief or practice that it is barely comprehensible that anyone would even propose it as a possibility). It is true that animal sacrifices were performed in the Tabernacle and later in the Temple, but it is clear throughout the Torah and the Prophets that the sacrifice itself was meaningless without the repentance and devotion of the individual human heart.
Fifth, in Judaism, "belief" accomplishes precisely nothing by itself. There is no Creed in Judaism, no specified set of acceptable beliefs. What one "believes" is all but insignificant next to what one does, and no amount of "belief" cancels or ameliorates the results of one's actions. Believing the proper "doctrines" in Judaism is utterly irrelevant to anything at all.
A concrete example, put simply: if I am in need, what do I care what you "believe"? Will you help me, or not? Nothing else matters.
Sixth, Jews are not even certain that there is a Heaven at all. Judaism has rather little concern with the afterlife; it isn't mentioned in the Torah, and belief in it seems to have been entirely absent from its teachings in the early years of our religion. Even those Jews who do believe in Heaven spend little time or energy thinking and talking about it -- and there is no belief in an eternal fiery Hell at all, anywhere in all of Jewish history or tradition. The point of the Jewish religion is THIS life in THIS world. The next, we leave to God. “Salvation,” in the Christian sense of “going to Heaven,” is a non-issue for Jews. It is not even a peripheral interest, let alone a central principle.
As you can see, though Judaism and Christianity share an ethic, basic values, and many religious practices, as well as (in part) common literature, our views of the nature and structure of the relationship between God and man, the nature and importance of sin and the means of its forgiveness, the significance of the afterlife, and many other matters, are so profoundly different that they really do constitute two entirely separate religions. That one was derived from the other, and that we share a large body of Scripture, no longer matters. We stand beside each other as brothers; but we have long since taken separate paths. We ought to respect one another and work together where our ideals and ethics converge in the real world -- which is almost everywhere. Where our beliefs differ, we should agree to disagree and leave each other alone.
One more note: It is wholly illegitimate and improper for a follower of any faith to attempt to dictate to a follower of another what his beliefs OUGHT to be, then castigate him because they do not follow his prescription. No one has any warrant to point out passages of "prophecy" in our own Scriptures that we do not, and have never, read as such, and overrule the traditions and beliefs that we have held for more than three thousand years--and tell us what we ought to think and believe. No one has that right.
We have no warrant to deny that Jesus is your Savior, or to deny that, for you, any belief you may hold about him is true. That is between you and God, and is none of our business; for all any Jew knows, those beliefs are true and correct for Christians and God will honor them. Jesus may very well be YOUR Messiah, even though he is not ours. That is not for us to say.
But in the same way, it is not your right to insist that we abandon our own beliefs and convictions in favor of an understanding of our own Scriptures that we have never held. As I say; this matter is not open to debate. This determination was made by my people two thousand years ago, and it is reaffirmed in every generation.
Thank you for reading. May we all work together for the good of the Kingdom of God and forgive each other our disagreements.
I'll close with a saying from the Talmud. When the sages of old disagreed and could find no way to reconcile their differences, they would often allow both rulings to stand as equally acceptable options in Jewish law. When asked how this was possible, it was said that "When Elijah comes, he will explain which of us was right--or why we both were."
In that spirit, I'll also offer this: I have said for many years that, when (if) the Messiah finally comes, the Jews will look up and say, “You’re here!” the Christians will look up and say, “You’re back!” -- and then we’ll all hug each other and laugh about it.
Peace to all.
Post 111: Wed Jul 01, 2015 7:32 am
Re: Why Jesus was not the Jewish Messiah
Like this post (1): Hayven
As a Jewish believer, I absolutely love your post. Thank you for taking the time to share all of that and I could definitely identify with a lot of what you said, as far as respecting other's faith and beliefs.[[url=http://debatingchristianity.com/forum/viewtopic.php?p=484565#484565]Replying to post 1 by cnorman18[/url